Drama Dice: An advancement mod for Cortex Prime (with Benj Davis)

Drama dice are a variant advancement and reward mechanic in Cortex Prime, designed by Benj Davis originally as a hack for Smallville RPG. They combine elements from the existing Cortex Prime mods of growth and hero dice and, as the name suggests, they are intended mainly for dramatic games where relationships drive the plot and feelings change over time.

I’ve been aware of Benj’s rules for drama dice for a while (he mentioned them in the comments when I posted my own Smallville hack, for instance), but most recently he explained them in a thread at the Cortex System Roleplaying Google+ community (where there have been a ton of great conversations lately about Cortex stuff, check it out). With Benj’s latest explanation, I had a few realisations:

  1. These rules are great, and I hadn’t really understood how they worked before. It helped this time that I had done something similar with hero dice in my recent villain-themed Cortex Prime game, so now I can see just how good they are.
  2. Benj has explained the rules several times, for several people, in several different places, but there has never been a single place where they are all set out that people can just link to. Given that I have a blog, I offered to put the rules here and he agreed!
  3. Now that Cortex Prime playtest is just about over, and the publication of the actual game handbook is imminent, it seemed like an ideal time to update the terminology and present drama dice as a mod for Cortex Prime for maximum accessibility.

So, without further ado, how could you incorporate drama dice into your own dramatic Cortex Prime campaigns?

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My first RPG competition!: Put Away Childish Things

Hey everyone! I entered the 200 Word RPG Challenge 2018, which is for designers to submit games of no more than 200 words (hence the name). It’s the first RPG game design competition I ever entered, but I’ve had fun with it and will probably do it again!

I’m also pretty happy with my entry, which is called Put Away Childish Things, and which you can all check out on the Challenge website here: Put Away Childish Things!

Finalists are announced on 14 June, and winners on 1 July. I don’t expect to place, but I’m obviously hopeful, for myself and all my friends who submitted games as well.

One of the reasons this was so fun, and also so rewarding, was because a small group of my friends made it an event. We wrote games, shared them with each other, provided feedback and encouragement, etc. So if you have time, maybe you’d like to check out their games too:

  • Alberto Muti (who prompted us all to take part) wrote Keep It Casual
  • Michael Duxbury wrote Rhea (and, being Michael, also a second game available on his blog)
  • Emily Savidge wrote Day at the Planet (an excellent idea she’s had for ages, so it’s great that it’s out there now!)
  • Talisa Tavella wrote House Hunt-ed-ing (which I love for the authorial voice as much as the gameplay)

If you read Put Away Childish Things or any of these others, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them! And if you play any of them, then come on you have to let me know! If you submitted a game too, send me a link to it and I’ll check it out. I’ve found a lot of cool ideas just by reading other submissions at random, and I look forward to reading the finalists and winners, which I’m sure will be awesome. Exciting!

 

Bring on the dwelfs: Mixed race options in Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Kiliel from Titansgrave by Nick Gan
Kiliel, Alison Haislip’s half-elf/half-dwarf from Titansgrave. It’s not exactly D&D… because half-elf/half-dwarves don’t exist in D&D. That’s the point.

I recently finished playing in a Dungeons & Dragons (5th edition) campaign, and the same group is now planning for the next one, in the same setting but with all new characters. We’re even using D&D Beyond for it, because if we’re going down that rabbit hole we might as well go all the way, right?

And going through character creation has got me thinking again about fantasy races in D&D, and pondering yet again the age-old question: what in the Nine Hells is up with the Half-Elf and Half-Orc races? What makes them so special that they get treated as distinct races in their own right? Why can’t I play as any other type of hybrid, like a half-elf/half-dwarf dwelf? Well, this time I actually decided to do something about it.

You can play other types of hybrid in D&D 5e. Read on to see how.

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Will you find your happily ever after with The Dance and The Dawn?

Cover of The Dance and the Dawn, via ndpdesign.comThe Dance and the Dawn is a fantasy roleplaying game of romantic tragedy by Dev Purkayastha of Sweet Potato Press. It tells the tale of a midnight waltz in the court of the Ice Queen, where the forlorn Ladies of Ash have come to dance with the mysterious Lords of Ice, each Lady in search of the True Love that can yield them happiness. Happily ever afters are possible, but far from guaranteed.

The game is designed for one-shot play for 3-5 players (but 4 players is recommended). One of the players is the GM (or Narrator) and the others play the Ladies of Ash.

The action of the game takes place in the ballroom of the Ice Queen’s court. The dance floor is represented by a chessboard, and all the attendees by chess pieces. As the pieces move around the board, the clock ticks on to morning. At dawn, the Ladies will have to make their fateful choices.

I recently had the opportunity to play the game, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not for everyone, and I’m ambivalent about its replay value, but there’s a lot of great stuff in it that I think is worth unpacking.

The Dance and the Dawn is available for purchase from Lulu or Indie Press Revolution. There’s even a live-action roleplay (or “theatrical experience”) adaptation of the game, if that’s more your sort of thing.

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The Legend of Wonder Woman [Step into Superheroes]

Step into Superheroes is a banner for my occasional blog posts that set RPGs aside and focus instead on another of my great passions: superheroes.

Legend of Wonder Woman cover by Renae de Liz and Ray Dillon

It’s International Women’s Day (for another 5 minutes in the UK), and I’ve been re-reading The Legend of Wonder Woman by Renae de Liz.

I love this book so much. It’s gorgeous, it’s moving, it’s funny, it’s uplifting. It’s human and feminist and diverse. It’s the greatest origin story of Wonder Woman that I’ve ever read.

Drawing on inspiration from Wonder Woman’s earliest stories and from throughout the character’s 75+ years of history, as well as adding enough new elements and perspectives to keep it fresh and new, de Liz has created something incredible: a new definitive backstory for one of the most iconic characters in comics history, unburdened from the messy self-contradictory continuity that can weigh down more mainstream versions.

It makes me sad that this beautiful book will not be getting a second volume, but even as a standalone graphic novel it’s a must for any comics fan that has even a passing care for the amazing Amazon. It’s currently discounted on (the other) Amazon, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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The Avengers Assemble… in the Apocalypse World

Teaser image of Iron Man as The Faceless, by Melissa Trender (melissatrender.com)

I was thinking recently: someone could totally run an Apocalypse World game in which all the player characters were based on the Avengers.

I don’t mean a hack to tell Avengers-style superhero stories. There are already plenty of Powered by the Apocalypse superhero games that do that (Masks and Worlds in Peril, for example). Instead, this would use Apocalypse World‘s rules as written to tell a sort of What If…? story.

What if the Avengers were formed 50 years after the end of the world?

What do the Avengers (Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, etc.) look like in the blasted, lethal, psychic-powered Apocalypse World?

Does it work? Is it a good idea to even try? I don’t know, but I’d better get the idea out there quick before Avengers: Infinity War comes out and transforms the general population’s understanding of who the Avengers are! Especially now that the superheroically talented Melissa Trender has provided some fantastic illustrations! Read on for that if nothing else!

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Turning over a new leaf: A villainous Cortex Prime playtest

It’s 2018, hurrah! A new year means a new year for roleplaying, and I’m looking forward to a few upcoming changes in my roleplaying calendar. First, all three regular campaigns that I’m in are reaching their climactic finales, which will be an exciting if bittersweet farewell to some characters. Second, I’m hoping to play some more one-shots, particularly in systems I’ve never tried before. Third, I’m putting my hand to game design a bit more—unusually, I’ve been inspired to dip my toe into OSR gaming, so we’ll see where that goes.

Most immediately, though, there are two things that are dominating my early 2018 roleplaying thoughts: GMing my first new campaigns after a relatively lackluster 2017 in that area, and the Cortex Prime playtest draft rules.

These two things go together pretty well, it turns out.

Mick Rory (Heatwave) in Legends of Tomorrow season 3 episode 2,
The gif that inspired it all.

Right now, I’m running a Cortex Prime game of supervillains, whisked out of the toxic environments that enabled their iniquity to fight a greater threat, given a chance to do something good for a change. Something like Legends of Tomorrow, Suicide Squad, or Guardians of the Galaxy (only the last of which I’ve actually watched, admittedly). Can they reform and become better people? Do they want to? Can they save the world? This is Set a Villain.

Since I last blogged about Cortex Prime, its Kickstarter was fully funded with all of its stretch goals reached, and several drafts of an SRD have been released for playtesting. I initially used v2.1 of the SRD (released on 19 September 2017), but I plan to update this to the latest versions as they come out. Currently, that’s v3.1, dated 1 January 2018. Happy New Year!

In this blog I’m giving a rundown of my new campaign, including the Cortex Prime variant rules we’re using. Note that while I’ve been writing detailed feedback on the game so far and sending it to the developers, I’m not going to copy it out here. Cortex Prime is still a work in progress, and (I hope) any feedback I’d write now would be irrelevant by the time the game is finalised and published. The most you’ll get here (for now) are some general opinions. Onward!

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